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Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2012 Bud Shootout at Daytona Race Recap

The Key MomentKyle Busch used a David Pearson, patent perfect slingshot pass to get around Tony Stewart coming to the line.

In a Nutshell – A whole lot more wrecking than racing. At times, I was wondering if anyone was going to finish the Shootout.

Dramatic MomentJeff Gordon decided he was going to get around Kyle Busch even if he had to wreck him. Ironically, in attempting to avoid that crash that never happened, Gordon found himself on his roof and out of the race.

What They’ll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week

Has this “race” outlived its shelf life? The “Born On” date for the Bud Shootout (nee the Busch Clash) was February 11th, 1979. The nine drivers eligible for the event had won a pole position at a Cup race the previous year; points, manufacturers, etc. had nothing to do with it. They raced for all of 20 laps, competing in an event that lasted just 15 minutes and 26 seconds. Buddy Baker won the race in dominating style, leading 18 of 20 laps and beating second-place Darrell Waltrip with ease. His winnings? $50,000 even, big coin back in that era. It was a reasonable concept; but over the years, the length of the race has swollen and eligibility requirements have slackened. (Hate to say it, but the downward spiral began with the Earnhardt factor. Dale Senior was never much of a qualifier and they wanted to be sure the sport’s most famous face was in every Shootout.) This year, it seems that to be eligible, a driver had to have a pulse and a car. In fact, multiple drivers who were eligible chose to sit this one out either for lack of a ride or sponsorship. What’s the problem? For one, it’s distance; 75 laps are way too many for a “Shootout.” I’d love to see the race go back to 20 laps and be restricted to actual pole winners from the previous season again. Putting $500,000 in the kitty for the winner would guarantee some spirited racing, too. (Breaking News: NASCAR has announced that criteria for the 2013 Shootout will go back to the old rules, restricted to drivers who win a pole this season and previous winners of the event. Now, about that length…)

Among the notables not participating in this year’s Shootout was Trevor Bayne who, of course, won last year’s Daytona 500. He chose not to… what does that tell you about this race?

OK, after that one common logic says that NASCAR will add yet another new rule for Daytona, stating drivers cannot bumpdraft in the corners. But how to they enforce that and determine whether contact was accidental or intentional? After all the carnage Saturday night, my guess is that the first 190 laps of the Daytona 500 are going to be rather sedate, with many drivers choosing to cruise at the back at the pack until the pay window starts to open. After that, watch out.

One issue a lot of folks emailing me are flat out pissed off about is NASCAR’s blessed policy of buying a guaranteed starting spot in this year’s 500 based on the work and effort of others last year. Naturally, most of the ire is directed towards the No. 10 team, a result of some unholy alliance between Hendrick/Stewart-Haas and Tommy Baldwin Racing that secured Danica Patrick a Top 35 spot in owner points. The practice amounts to corporate welfare for the wealthy which hurts legitimate teams trying to break into the sport.

A former boss taught me that if you’re going to point out a problem, you ought to have a suggestion to fix that problem at hand. So here’s my solution to teams buying into the first five races of the season. Daytona 500 qualifying has always been a bit Byzantine, what with Sunday qualifying and the 150s on Thursday. How about we keep both events, but the driver who qualifies fastest on Sunday gets one point towards making the race. The driver who qualifies second fastest gets two points and so on down to the 49th-fastest driver, who gets 49 points. Then, on Thursday the winner of the faster of the two 150s gets one point. The winner of the other 150 gets two points and so on down through the field. When the dust settles on Thursday evening, the 43 drivers with the lowest point totals (think golf) are in the Daytona 500. It doesn’t matter what the driver or team did last year or how many championships they might have won. The fastest 43 cars make the race and everybody else goes home.

I’m a little confused with the sound bites and headlines coming out in the wake of Saturday night’s race. The general consensus amongst drivers, team owners and media members is that “Tandem Racing” is a thing of the past. Well, I guess I saw the wrong race, because it appeared to me that in the final laps, Stewart and Kyle Busch paired up in a tandem to escape the pack so they could settle the matter between themselves. From my view, yes two drivers can no longer hook up as easily or stay hooked together as long due to the new rules package. But… they still can. That means problems will occur when two drivers try to pair up to move forward in the pack because, in close quarters the slightest miscalculation can be disastrous. So what do we call this new hybrid of pack and “Tandem Racing?” How about Tupac Racing?

Oh, boy, Chad Knaus is up to his old tricks yet again. The No. 48 car entered for the Daytona 500 failed tech inspection due to C pillars that had been massaged to guide the air away from the rear spoiler – a modification which would have been a huge speed advantage on a plate track. Oddly enough, no other car in the Hendrick stable, not even the No. 48 car prepared for the Shootout, was stitched up in the same manner. Knaus, you’ll recall, was nailed red-handed at the last restrictor plate event (Talladega in the fall) telling his driver to run the back end of the car into the wall if he were to win; this car is the very same one. Now, the last time Knaus got nailed with a major rules infraction at Daytona, in 2006 he was escorted off track property and not allowed to return for the 500 (an event Johnson then won, with Darian Grubb on the box filling in for Knaus) but NASCAR says that won’t happen this time. Still, once again the validity of Johnson’s five titles has to be called into question. I’d recommend a record fine and suspension for our boy Chad, even if it’s not until after this Sunday’s 500. He’s not just a cheater, he’s a habitual offender.

Speaking of habitual offenders, Michael Waltrip Racing got nabbed yet again after qualifying. Clint Bowyer‘s car was found to be too low and his time was disallowed, forcing him to start in the rear on Thursday. Well, I guess it’s better than a tank full of jet fuel this time…

A few notes on FOX coverage of the Shootout and the events leading up to it…
A) Wow, it didn’t take long for Danica-Mania to take over the Shootout Coverage, did it? Could they maybe have mentioned some of the drivers actually running in the race first?
B) It’s pretty sad that much attention had to be paid to the fact Daytona International planted two different types of grass in the infield grass to give the terrain a striped effect. Of course, listening to Darrell Waltrip again had me wishing for a little bag of a third sort of grass.
C) No, FOX doesn’t care what fans think, even in this age of social media. Not only is the ever annoying Boogity chant back, so is that stupid verminous gopher.

Only the FOX/SPEED team could come up with a method of drawing for starting positions for the Shootout that lasted longer than the race itself. If you spent an hour and a half Friday night watching drivers, some of them clearly irritable at being called out into the rain, pick beer bottles you really need to get a life or some reasonable facsimile thereof. And if there’s one thing worse than watching race fans scream and carry on, trying to get themselves shown on TV, it’s watching those bozos being too stupid to come in out of the rain.

Sometimes politically correct is just stupid. The Grand Marshal of the Cup race at Phoenix won’t be allowed to drive his General Lee Charger around the track because it has a Confederate flag painted on the roof. Come on. Who’s going to be offended by the cartoonish General Lee, still a late night staple for insomniacs on cable? Those of you old enough to actually have seen the show may recall Cale Yarborough was an occasional guest star, back in an era when practically nobody north of the Mason-Dixon knew who he was. (Roscoe once threatened to arrest him for “impersonating Cale Yarborough.”) When the original Bo and Luke left the series for a year, the storyline went they’d gone off to run the NASCAR circuit.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

David Ragan’s Shootout lasted only 10 laps before contact with Paul Menard sent him spinning into a pack of cars. Michael Waltrip was third man in. Color me surprised.

Brandon McReynolds would have won the ARCA 199.9-mile race. He ran out of gas within 1,000 feet of the checkered flag.

Kurt Busch wrecked a car in practice for the Shootout and totaled another in the event itself. At this rate, James Finch is going to be out of extra sheet metal by Fontana.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a great car Saturday night and led several stretches of the race to the considerable delight of the fans on hand. But he was unable to avoid the big wreck that resulted when Joey Logano got knocked sideways. With NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver out of the race, a ton of fans started visibly heading for the exits. It’s not easy being an Earnhardt fan…

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Kyle Busch’s car was sideways and completely out of control at least twice during the race, but he gathered it up each time. Not only were both incidents glove saves, and beauties, but Busch went on to win the event in a thoroughly used up Camry.

In the ARCA Series, coming out of the fourth turn to the checkered flag Bobby Gerhart was running fifth. He scored an improbable win when everyone ahead of him seemed to run out of gas or run into someone else who had.

Bowyer went for a wild ride through the grass but survived the incident well enough to finish eighth.

Despite never having run in the Shootout before, Marcos Ambrose did a credible job Saturday, leading the event late before finally finishing third despite having cooked his brakes early in the event. Brakes? We don’t need no steenkin’ brakes.

Denny Hamlin lost two laps having crash damage repaired, an incident he thought might have damaged his engine, too but went on to finish the race in fifth.

Stewart mangled his car in the first practice session Friday but his team (with Stewart assisting with the wrenching) pieced it back together well enough for the series champion to finish a close second on Saturday night.

Worth Noting

  • As I get older, my attention span is in a tail dive and my tolerance for gimmickry is worn clean through to the primer.
  • Kyle Busch’s win was the first for Toyota in the Shootout.
  • A total of three cars – Nos. 14, 2, and 16 – stayed out of all of the evening’s incidents. There were 25 cars entered in the race.
  • Of all the drivers in new rides this season, Bowyer had the best outing Saturday, finishing eighth.

What’s the Points?

This race is pointless, in more ways than one.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans, with one being a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic) – We’ll give this one four bottles of icy cold Bud with two of the bottles cracked, leaking, on fire and upside down.

Next Up – Qualifying will be over by the time this article is posted, so next up is the Twin 150s Thursday afternoon. Like the original Shootout, these were once very exciting races. Not anymore. With the Top 35 in last year’s owner points now guaranteed a starting spot for the 500, about all we’re left with is battles at the back of the pack, scrapping over which driver will have the honor of being the first to start and park next Sunday.

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